October 11, 2011

Food Interview #5: Jeff Potter and the Science of Cooking

“I was lucky to have parents who loved to cook, it’s what we did as a family. When I got to college I was surprised to discover so many of my classmates didn’t know how. That’s because their parents never took the time to cook with them,” he explains of his beginnings in food. Jeff Potter is not a chef, he’s an IT consultant who happened to write a cookbook called Cooking for Geeks, and a board member of the Awesome Food Foundation. It was those college friends that turned out to be the igniting point to Jeff’s involvement with teaching cooking techniques to others.

Dinner after dinner, he would explain the basics of how and why to do certain things to certain ingredients and how they effected the final dish, all very logically and scientifically. Pretty soon, food was always on Jeff’s mind. At an IT conference where techies were encouraged to speak of their creative and interesting hobbies, Jeff found himself giving an inspirational talk about food and the amazing things he had seen and explained during those college dinners with his friends. A thought dawned on him then, “maybe I should write about this stuff. How hard could it possibly be?”

9 months, 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, and piles upon piles of dishes later, Jeff had his first copy of Cooking for Geeks. “Writing the book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he admits. All the work, however, was well worth the effort. Enduring the solitary author’s lifestyle and countless recipe testings became manageable obstacles on a road to higher fulfillment. “The recipes aren’t trying to be something they’re not. They illustrate basic scientific principles that show you how [and why] to do it and then you can go and improvise with it. It’s really important to get people to think with science.”

He never planned for any attention to come of this project. It was meant to be something to help him cope with the end of a long-term relationship and a start on his adventure in food. “I didn’t plan for these things to happen. I didn’t do it for public gratification. I just needed something different and it was the right thing at the right time.”

Finishing the book became more rewarding than he ever thought possible. Not only did it give him something that he could take great pride in, others started noticing as well. “There’s a huge sense of relief and accomplishment when crossing the finish line. The biggest reaction for me was my parents and how very proud they were of me.”

When recounting an experience of a boy and his father’s reaction at an event at a children’s hospital in Australia, Jeff’s voice softens and his tone becomes more reflective. “This quiet man approached me and said, ‘thank you so much, you made my little boy’s day.’ I almost started crying because I had brightened someone’s day. It’s a very emotional memory for me,” Jeff explains. Far from anything he expected and above all, he was able to experience the kindness of people and found out “how nice the world really is.”

Today, Jeff is expanding on that kindness through his work with the Awesome Food Foundation. Being one of the board members, who each give $100 a month to a worthy food project for a total of $1000 to the grantee, Jeff knows how much it means to give people opportunities to do great things. Their first recipient was in the business of mobile composting. The grant allowed her to get 50 compost bins to help transport collected food scraps to local gardens needing compost material. “It was such a joy to reward her,” says Jeff. Not only does he enjoy hearing others’ creative ideas, but he also gets joy from helping them on their journey. For when you start out doing something for yourself and end up reaching others as a result, there is no greater happiness.

Find the Awesome Food Foundation here: http://www.awesomefood.net/

Find Cooking for Geeks here: http://www.cookingforgeeks.com/

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September 22, 2011